Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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2021 Game Preview: Buccaneers-Colts, Week 12

The Bucs head to Lucas Oil Stadium to face an ascending Colts team that has won five of its last six in front of a crowd that is sure to enjoy the return of Tom Brady to Indianapolis

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, who engaged in a wild 73-point shootout late in the 2019 season, are getting a rematch two years earlier than originally expected.

The 7-3 Buccaneers will head to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this weekend for a contest against the rapidly-ascending 6-5 Colts. It is technically the 12th week of the 2021 season and the 11th game on Tampa Bay's schedule, but this matchup could also accurately be described as "the 17th game" for both teams. When the NFL expanded its schedule from 16 to 17 games per team this year, it created an added element to the scheduling format. That added game will always be an interconference matchup, and all the home teams will be in the same conference, with that hosting privilege rotating back and forth from season to season.

The result in the Bucs' case was an additional road trip, in this case to play the Colts, who finished second in the AFC South last year, just like Tampa Bay did in the NFC South. Prior to the schedule expansion, the Buccaneers' next game in Indianapolis would have been in 2013. The Indy crowd might have missed out on a visit from Tom Brady, who factored into so many of their playoff chases during his time with the New England Patriots. The Buccaneers might not have caught the NFL's hottest running back at the very apex of his powers.

But Brady will play before the Lucas Oil Stadium crowd and the Buccaneers' top-ranked run defense will have to contend with reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week Jonathan Taylor as both teams begin their post-Thanksgiving stretch runs. The Buccaneers come into the game fresh off a dominant prime-time win over the Giants and with a two-game cushion in the NFC South. The Colts await with a run of five wins in their last six outings and a chance to still catch the Titans in the AFC South. Of all the AFC-NFC matchups that came to be thanks to the 17th game, this is surely one of the most intriguing.

After playing two straight NFC East teams that had losing records, the Buccaneers now will try to stay perfect in interconference games after earlier wins over New England and Miami. It won't be easy against a Colts squad that has scored 33.5 points per game during its six-week run back into playoff contention. The 8-3 Tennessee Titans, who lost to Houston last Sunday, suddenly look vulnerable at the top of the Colts division without Derrick Henry, but Indianapolis knows it has little margin for error thanks to their two losses to Tennessee already. The Colts are not only red-hot, but they have every reason to be highly motivated for Sunday's game against the Buccaneers.

Brady's presence will surely add to that motivation. When Brady took over from Drew Bledsoe as New England's starter in 2001 it spawned a Patriots-Colts rivalry centered around the matchup of Brady and Peyton Manning. Brady's very first NFL start was a 44-13 win over the Colts in '01, and that was followed by a second Patriots win in Indianapolis later that season. More importantly, Brady's Patriots knocked Manning's squad out of the playoffs in 2003 (the AFC Championship Game) and 2004 (AFC Divisional Game). The Colts bounced back in the series over the next few years but the Patriots won every one of their games against Indianapolis in the 2010s, including two more playoff ousters. Some of that was after Manning's departure, but it's fair to say that Brady is a player the Colts' faithful love to hate.

Of course, Brady hasn't slowed down since he left the Patriots for Tampa, leading the Bucs to the Super Bowl LV championship in his first season and now leading the NFL with 29 touchdown passes at the age of 44. However, 20 of those 29 touchdowns have come in the Bucs' five home games, all victories and most by wide margins. Brady and the Buccaneers' offense has so far been less effective on the road, as his TD-INT ratio in five away games is just 9-5. Tampa Bay has scored 24 first-quarter points in those five road games – all but 10 of them in one game at Philadelphia – while their five opening periods at home have produced 49 points. The Bucs are trying to figure out how to translate their dominant home performances to more hostile environments…and Lucas Oil Stadium will definitely be loud on Sunday.

"We've just got to figure out ways to bring our own energy and start faster," said wide receiver Chris Godwin, who scored at the end of the Bucs' game-opening drive on Monday night. "I think that will solve a lot of things if a lot of guys get hyped and get into the game a lot faster, and try to negate the problems that come with loud opposing crowds."

If the Bucs are going to turn things around on the road, they'll have one more chance to do so than in previous seasons. It's Week 12, but the Bucs' "17th game" is upon them and it is both a serious challenge and a great opportunity.

GAME AND BROADCAST DETAILS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

Sunday, November 28, 1:00 p.m. ET

Lucas Oil Stadium (capacity: 63,000)

Indianapolis, Indiana

Television: FOX

TV Broadcast Team: Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Greg Olsen (analyst), Pam Oliver (reporter)

Radio: 98Rock (WXTB, 97.9 FM), Flagship Station

Radio Broadcast Team: Gene Deckerhoff (play-by-play), Dave Moore (analyst), T.J. Rives (reporter)

ALL-TIME HEAD-TO-HEAD SERIES

The addition of a 17th game to the schedule, which will always be an interconference game and works on a divisional matchup rotation similar to the other AFC-NFC games each year, means the Buccaneers and Colts are meeting again just two years after their last hookup, as noted above. Tampa Bay won that game, a 38-35 thriller at Raymond James Stadium, to close the gap in their all-time series with the Colts to 6-8. The Bucs' record in Indianapolis, however, is just 2-5, with the most recent win coming in 1997.

The two teams have alternated victories over the last four meetings, both clubs holding serve at home. In 2019, during a late-season four-game winning streak in Bruce Arians' first year at the helm, Tampa Bay scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the aforementioned three-point shootout, with Jameis Winston finding Brett Perriman for the 12-yard game-winner with four minutes to go. Winston threw four touchdown passes on the day, including a 61-yarder to Mike Evans. The Colts' most recent win in the series was in 2015, a 25-12 decision in which Matt Hasselbeck threw a pair of touchdown passes to T.Y. Hilton. Prior to that, the Buccaneers prevailed in a Monday Night Football showcase in 2011, with LeGarrette Blount's 35-yard touchdown run, part of a 127-yard outing, provided the winning points with just over three minutes to play. That was the barest minimum of Monday Night Football revenge for another prime time game eight years earlier that ranks among the unhappiest of Buccaneer evenings. More on that below.

Both teams found great success with Tony Dungy as their head coach. Dungy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for a career that was split almost evenly between the Buccaneers and the Colts. He got his first head job in Tampa in 1996 and quickly turned around a team that hadn't been in the playoffs since the early '80s, leading the Bucs to four postseason berths in six seasons. Dungy then took over as the head coach in Indianapolis and led that team to seven straight seasons with double-digit wins and a Super Bowl championship following the 2006 season.

The Buccaneers and Colts also impacted each other's drafts twice in a six-year span with two trades that were very similar in shape and scope though in opposite directions. In 1990, the buccaneers traded a first-round pick in the 1992 draft to Indianapolis for quarterback Chris Chandler, which eventually led to the Colts having the first two picks in that draft. In the end, that didn't work out too well for Indy as the two picks, Steve Emtman and Quentin Coryatt, failed to live up to those selections. In 1995, it was the other way around, as the Buccaneers sent quarterback Craig Erickson to Indianapolis in exchange for a first-round pick, this one in the 1996 draft. Tampa Bay got better results with that deal, using the pick on Marcus Jones, who developed into a good pass-rushing defensive end for several years.

And the payback for a prior Monday night game? Well, it will take more than one close win to make that even, as the Colts 38-35 victory at Raymond James Stadium in 2003 still ranks among the toughest losses in franchise history. After Ronde Barber returned an interception off Peyton Manning 29 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the Bucs seemed to have the game locked down with a 21-point lead and only five minutes remaining. What followed was one of the biggest late-game comebacks in NFL history, which included a 90-yard kickoff return, a successful onside kick and several long connections between Manning and Marvin Harrison. The Colts tied the game at 35 apiece and then won it in overtime on Mike Vanderjagt's 29-yard field goal, but only after Vanderjagt had hit his first try wide right only to get a second chance thanks to an infamous "leaping" penalty thrown against Simeon Rice.

NOTABLE CONNECTIONS

  • Buccaneers Head Coach Bruce Arians was the quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis during the first three seasons of Peyton Manning's career (1998-2000). Arians also returned to Indianapolis in 2012 to serve as the offensive coordinator but ended up as the interim head coach while Chuck Pagano was being treated for leukemia. The Colts went 9-3 with Arians at the helm, making the playoffs, and he was named AP NFL Coach of the Year. Arians' second stint in Indy only lasted one year because the Arizona Cardinals came calling with their head job in 2013.
  • Colts wide receiver Michael Pittman, Jr. is the son of former NFL running back Michael Pittman, who won a Super Bowl with the Buccaneers. The elder Pittman spent six of his 11 NFL seasons in Tampa (2002-2007) after signing as an unrestricted free agent in '02. In the Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVII victory over the Raiders, Pittman led the team with 124 rushing yards on 29 carries. He ranks sixth on Tampa Bay's all-time rushing yards chart (3,362) and ninth in receptions (284).
  • Clyde Christensen, who returned to Tampa in2019 as the team's quarterbacks coach, got his start in the NFL ranks with the Buccaneers in 1996. Christensen was on the Tony Dungy's staff for six years, first coaching tight ends and then quarterbacks and finally serving as offensive coordinator in 2001. Most of the years between those two stints Christensen spent in Indianapolis, where he was a coach for 14 seasons, including two years as the offensive coordinator.
  • The Bucs' current staff also includes two men who were previously offensive line coaches for the Colts: Offensive Line Coach Joe Gilbert (2012-17, some of those years as the assistant O-line coach) and Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin (2012).
  • ·    Indianapolis Linebackers Coach Dave Borgonzi spent four seasons as a defensive quality control coach in Tampa before joining the Colts staff last year. Borgonzi joined Lovie Smith's initial staff in 2014 and then was retained in 2016 when Dirk Koetter replaced Smith.
  • Buccaneers cornerback Pierre Desir spent three seasons in Indianapolis after being claimed off waivers from the Seahawks in September of 2017. Desir started 29 of the 37 games he played for the Colts, racking up 161 tackles, five interceptions and 26 passes defensed.
  • Alan Williams, now the Colts' safeties coach, was a defensive assistant for the Buccaneers in 2001 on Dungy's staff.
  • Luke Rhodes is now the Colts' long-snapper, but he first entered the league as an undrafted free agent playing linebacker with the Buccaneers in 2016. He was released at the end of the 2016 preseason.

SENIOR COACHING STAFFS

Tampa Bay:

  • Head Coach Bruce Arians
  • Assistant Head Coach/Run Game Coordinator Harold Goodwin
  • Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles
  • Offensive Coordinator Byron Leftwich
  • Special Teams Coordinator Keith Armstrong

Indianapolis:

  • Head Coach Frank Reich
  • Offensive Coordinator Marcus Brady
  • Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus
  • Special Teams Coordinator Bubba Ventrone

KEY 2021 ROSTER ADDITIONS

Buccaneers:

Colts:

  • K Michael Badgley (FA)
  • T Julién Davenport (UFA)
  • QB Sam Ehlinger (6th-round draft pick)
  • T Eric Fisher (FA)
  • TE Kylen Granson (4th-round draft pick)
  • DE Dayo Odeyingbo (2nd-round draft pick)
  • DE Kwity Paye (1st-round draft pick)
  • G Chris Reed (UFA)
  • DE Isaac Rochell (FA)
  • QB Carson Wentz (T-PHI)
  • DT Antwuan Woods (FA)

ADDITIONAL 2021 CHANGES OF NOTE

Buccaneers:

  • While "keeping the band" together on the field for a run at another championship, the Buccaneers also managed to keep their coaching staff almost entirely intact for 2021. The lone departure was Offensive Assistant Antwaan Randle El, who left to coach the receivers on Dan Campbell's staff in Detroit. There were two additions to Arians' staff: Offensive Assistant A.Q. Shipley and Assistant Wide Receivers Coach Thaddeus Lewis.
  • Mike Greenberg, who provided invaluable help to Jason Licht in the efforts to keep the Bucs' Super Bowl-winning roster together as the team's director of football administration, was promoted during the offseason to vice president of football administration. Greenberg is entering his 12th year with the team.
  • After playing their 2020 home schedule in front of audiences ranging from empty stands to about 25% capacity, the Buccaneers will be at full capacity at Raymond James Stadium in 2021. And we do mean full capacity. The defending champions have already sold out every home game this season; the last time every game at Raymond James Stadium sold out was in 2009.
  • The Buccaneers introduced new uniforms in 2020 that were heavily influenced by the look the team had during its first Super Bowl era but also included a brand new alternate set with matching pewter jerseys and pants. That gave the team four combinations last season: pewter on pewter, white on white, white on pewter and red on pewter. The Bucs will use a fifth combination in 2021, with a red jersey over white pants, which they will wear in the Sunday Night Football spotlight at home against the Saints in Week 15.
  • Veteran wide receiver Antonio Brown is not a new addition to the team in 2021 but he will have a chance to make a greater impact this season. Brown joined the Buccaneers at midseason last year and played in the last eight games of the regular season, recording 45 catches for 483 yards and four touchdowns. He also appeared in three postseason contests and memorably scored a touchdown in Super Bowl LV. This time Brown will be an integral part of the offense from Day One, and he'll be moving more freely after having knee surgery in the offseason. From 2013-18, Brown averaged approximately 114 catches for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns per season.

Colts:

  • The Colts continued to look for the long-term replacement for quarterback Andrew Luck, whose sudden retirement just before the 2019 season left Indianapolis without a franchise quarterback for the first time since 1998, other than the 2011 season that Peyton Manning missed due to a neck injury. After one year with Jacoby Brissett at the helm, the Colts brought in veteran Philip Rivers, but the long-time Charger retired after just one season in Indianapolis. That prompted Indianapolis to trade a 2021 third-round draft pick and a 2022 second-round pick that will become a first-round pick if Wentz hits a certain percentage of the team's offensive snaps. The Colts also drafted a backup for Wentz in the sixth round, picking up Sam Ehlinger of Texas.
  • Nick Sirianni, the Colts' offensive coordinator from 2018-20, left in January to take the head coach job in Philadelphia, which prompted Indianapolis to promote Quarterbacks Coach Marcus Brady to the coordinator spot. That and Sirianni hiring several Colts coaches to join his staff in Philly led to a round of new hires on the Indianapolis staff. Those included Quarterbacks Coach Scott Milanovich, Scottie Montgomery as running backs coach, Klayton Adams as tight ends coach, Kevin Mawae as assistant offensive line coach and Press Taylor as senior offensive assistant. Parks Frazier was also promoted to assistant quarterbacks coach. Added to the defensive side of the ball was James Rowe as cornerbacks coach, with David Overstreet promoted to assistant defensive backs coach. Joe Hastings came aboard as the assistant special teams coach.
  • Speaking of changes at the game's most important positions, the Colts also had to find a new left tackle following the retirement of Anthony Castonzo after a solid decade of excelling at that position. Indy snapped up former first-overall pick Eric Fisher two months after he was dropped by Kansas City, and though he missed the season opener while finishing his recovery from a 2020 Achilles tendon injury he has started every game since.
  • The Colts introduced a new set of Throwback uniforms for 2021, and the Buccaneers will get to see them firsthand. The Throwback set is based on the teams' 1956 uniforms and it's most distinctive difference is that the two horseshoe logos will be on the back of the helmet rather than on the sides. Indianapolis will wear this homage to the Johnny Unitas era when the Buccaneers visit Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.

TOP STORYLINES

Taylor-Made Matchup – As noted above, Taylor is the hottest back in the NFL – particularly with Tennessee's Derrick Henry on the shelf – and he has started to gain traction in the MVP race after his five-touchdown performance last Sunday in Buffalo. Taylor has topped 100 yards from scrimmage and had at least one rushing touchdown in eight straight games, which is a remarkable run. Only two other men in NFL history – LaDainian Tomlinson and Lydell Mitchell – have matched that streak, and if Taylor makes it nine straight against the Bucs he'll be the first to ever do so. Taylor's combination of size, power and speed make him a load to handle between the tackles and a home run threat when he gets into the open field. Like any team heading into Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Colts, the Bucs know it will be a challenge to slow Taylor down. However, the Buccaneers also happen to be very well equipped for such a challenge. After leading the NFL in rushing defense in both 2019 and 2020, the Buccaneers are back on top in that category, allowing just 78.4 yards per game. While some of that has had to do with a number of big Tampa Bay leads in home games, the Bucs are also second in yards allowed per carry, at 3.81. The Bucs limited talented Giants back Saquon Barkley to just 25 rushing yards on Monday night, and that was without their star nose tackle, Vita Vea, who was out with a knee injury. That run defense could be even more staunch this weekend if Vea returns to action, and there is optimism he will be able to do so.

How Will the Colts' Defend Brady – To the surprise of very few, the Giants confronted Brady (speaking of MVP candidates) and the Buccaneers' offense with a large dose of two-high safety looks, ostensibly to prevent the Bucs from scoring quickly with big plays. Tampa Bay took what the Giants were given and, despite producing a season-low two plays of 20 or more yards, still got to 308 net passing yards, almost exactly their league-leading per-game average (314.8) in 2021. Brady threw a high percentage of short throws and the Bucs made almost all of them work, opening the game with 17 consecutive "successful plays." Even though his average time to throw of 2.75 seconds on Monday night was longer than it has been in most gamest this year, he still was not sacked, and he's been pressured on a league-low 16.1% of his dropbacks this season. What approach will the Colts' defense take on Sunday, given that there is evidence that Brady and company have the goods to succeed against any sort of approach? Well, just as the Bucs' run defense is a good match for Taylor, the Colts' defense has had success against short passing games this season. Brady is tied for the NFL lead with 15 touchdowns on "quick passes," according to NFL Next Gen Stats, but the Colts' defense also leads the league with a passer rating allowed of 79.9 on such throws. Five of Indy's 13 picks have come on such plays, in fact. Interestingly, the Colts have not been one of the best teams at defending longer passes, with a passer rating allowed of 100.5 on balls thrown 10 or more yards down the field in the air.

Reinforcements on the Way? – The Buccaneers' defense got a key starter back in Week 11 when cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting played for the first time since suffering an opening-night elbow injury and was on the field for all but one defensive snap. On Wednesday, Carlton Davis, another one of the Bucs' season-opening starters at cornerback started practicing again while on injured reserve for a calf ailment. Bruce Arians said he doubted Davis would return to the lineup by Sunday but was more optimistic about Vita Vea, who may only miss one game after suffering an MCL injury in Washington in Week 10. The Bucs' offense also got a central figure back in Week 11 when Rob Gronkowski returned from a back injury and immediately contributed six catches for 71 yards. Now that offense could be even closer to full strength with wide receiver Scotty Miller getting his activation from injured reserve on Tuesday. Though there are some new injuries to deal with, such as Devin White's quad and Ali Marpet's oblique, neither is considered a long-time concern and the Buccaneers could head into the stretch as healthy as they have been since the first half of the Week One game against Dallas.

Long-Distance Communication – The Buccaneers' aforementioned struggles – relatively speaking – on the road have been the result of a number of factors. On Wednesday, both Murphy-Bunting and wideout Chris Godwin suggested that the biggest issue was the lack of a proper energy level at the start of the game. They believe that has led to slow starts and created situations that allowed the home team crowd to be a problem. That's likely true, and it also ties into an issue the players and coaches have cited on several occasions after disappointing road performances: unsatisfactory communication between players, particularly on defense. The type of crowd noise that the Buccaneers' offense will face on Sunday inside the Colts' dome is an obstacle to proper communication but it shouldn't be a problem when Tampa Bay's defense is on the field. On that side of the ball, the issue is probably at least partially rooted in the ever-shifting lineup the Bucs have had to deploy while dealing with a rash of injuries, mostly in the secondary. As the team gets closer to having its preferred lineup intact, will it be able to solve those communication issues and get hot down the road like it did in 2020? On Wednesday, Bruce Arians said there was "no doubt" that the Bucs' defense is capable of getting back to the level of play it put on display down the stretch last season, and that getting Murphy-Bunting back was a "huge" step in that direction.

Key Takeaways – Both the Colts and the Buccaneers rank in the NFL's top seven in turnover margin, with Indy taking the top spot and the Bucs coming at number seven. So the two teams are pretty close to even in that department, right? Uh, no. The Bucs' +5 turnover ratio is good, but it pales in comparison to the Colts' +15. No other team in the NFL is even better than +2 and only two (the Colts and Bills) are better than +8. Indianapolis has turned their 25 takeaways into a league-high 91 points off turnovers while their 10 giveaways have only resulted in 26 points, tied for the sixth-lowest in the NFL. That 65-point differential in scoring and allowing points off turnovers looks an awful lot like the Colts' overall scoring differential of 64 points this year. It has absolutely been a winning edge for Indianapolis so far in 2021. "Defensively, they lead the league with 25 takeaways, and then a plus-15, that's huge," said Bruce Arians. "So they're doing a great job in those areas of taking the ball away from teams and setting themselves up." As for the Buccaneers, they tied their recent pair of losses at New Orleans and Washington to the five turnovers they committed in those games, which led to 27 total points for their opponents. Tampa Bay's defense only had one takeaway in those two games combined, as well, but it bounced back with three against the Giants in Monday night's win. If the Buccaneers let the Colts continue to win the turnover battle they will have a much tougher time escaping Lucas Oil Stadium with a win.

KEY MATCHUPS

1. Buccaneers TE Rob Gronkowski vs. Colts S Andrew Sendejo

If the Buccaneers' defense has been hampered by a string of injuries at cornerback, the back end of the Colts' defense has had to go beyond Plan C at safety. Indy's two starting safeties at the beginning of the season – Julian Blackmon and Khari Willis – are now on injured reserve and the team has had to turn to Sendejo and George Odum as their front-liners at the position. Odum was a 2020 All-Pro selection…but as a special-teamer. Sendejo, the long-time Viking, wasn't signed until September 14 and was not in an NFL training camp this year. Sendejo had a reputation as a hard-hitter in the Minnesota secondary but he isn't necessarily as strong in coverage as the team's two injured safeties. He does have a deep well of experience, with 124 career games played and 75 starts. The Colts will need somebody to deal with Gronkowski, who returned to the Buccaneers' lineup with a flourish on Monday night. After opening the season with four touchdown passes in the first two games, Gronkowski suffered rib fractures in Week Three and then later developed a back issue, keeping him out of all but six snaps from Week Four until Monday night. The veteran tight end has a strong connection with tight end and is a master of working the middle of the field, as he did on a crucial 35-yard catch against the Giants. According to ESPN's Mina Kimes, almost all of Gronkowski's eight targets came against two-high safety formations and the Bucs averaged 2.2 more yards per play when he was on the field.

2. Colts C Ryan Kelly vs. Buccaneers DL Vita Vea

Vea hurt his knee on the last play of the team's loss at Washington in Week 10 but was surprisingly close to playing eight days later against the Giants. Bruce Arians made the decision on the night of the game, in the end choosing not to put the fourth-year linemen on the field after he had received no practice snaps. Still, there's a good chance Vea will be able to return to the field on Sunday in Indianapolis and that's a boon for Tampa Bay's defense. Vea is the poster child for making a huge difference in a defense without having eye-popping stats to his own name. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Buccaneers are clearly better with Vea on the field against both the run and the pass. Heading into Monday night's game, the Bucs had a 28.9% pressure rate and a 6.9% sack rate on opposing dropbacks when Vea was on the field, but those numbers drop to 18.8% and 4.2% when he's on the sideline. And when opponents run, since the start of 2020 the Bucs allow 3.1 yards per carry with Vea in the lineup and 4.1 without him. The nimble 347-pounder is tough for any blocker to handle but the Colts have one of the NFL's best centers in Ryan Kelly, the 18th-overall pick in the 2016 draft, has earned Pro Bowl invitations each of the past two years and, in tandem with guard Quenton Nelson, is one of the main reasons the Colts rank fourth in rushing yards per game (147.9), second in yards per carry (5.17) and seventh in sacks allowed per pass play (5.01%). Kelly ranked 69th on the NFL Network's list of the top 100 players of 2021 before the season after he committed just one penalty in more than 1,000 snaps last year. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed just 12 pressures on the quarterback all of last season.

3. Buccaneers G Aaron Stinnie* vs. Colts DT DeForest Buckner

There's an asterisk by Stinnie's name above because I'm highlighting this matchup on the assumption that Ali Marpet, the Buccaneers' Pro Bowl-caliber guard, will not make it back from his oblique injury in time to play against the Colts. That would give Stinnie the call at left guard, where he filled in for the remainder of the game after Marpet's injury on Monday night. Stinnie was a significant part of the Bucs' playoff-run story last year after he stepped in for injured right guard Alex Cappa and played at a very high level for the team's final three games. Stinnie has still not made a regular-season start in his career, however, so his performance last January and February is important for the Bucs' confidence that he can replicate Marpet's contributions on Monday if needed. One of the toughest assignments Stinnie and the Buccaneers' other interior blockers will face is 6-foot-7 defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, one of the NFL's most dominant forces in the middle of the trenches. Buckner leads the Colts in both sacks (4.5) and quarterback hits (11) and he's credited by NFL Next Gen Stats with 33 QB pressures, the fourth-highest total for an NFL interior lineman this year. Buckner primarily plays the three-technique position where he is trying to shoot through gaps between blockers, and his quick first step helps him get leverage on guards and centers and get them out of position and off balance. Buckner is also a top-notch run defender.

4. Colts WR Michael Pittman, Jr. vs. Buccaneers CB Jamel Dean

Buccaneer fans are familiar with the name of the Colts' top receiver, as Pittman is the son of former Tampa Bay Super Bowl champion Michael Pittman, a versatile pass-catching running back. Pittman, Jr. plays a different position than his father but is just as physical of a player, routinely fighting for the ball, making contested catches and then overpowering would-be tacklers in the open field. The 6-4, 223-pound receiver leads the Colts with 57 receptions for 752 yards and five touchdowns, and no other player on the team has even half as many receiving yards. On an Indianapolis that features a powerful runner in Taylor, a rugged offensive line and a quarterback that isn't afraid to take a hit, Pittman fits right in with his style of play. He plays 80% of his snaps on the outside, split pretty evenly between the right and left sides, and that means he will definitely get some reps against Dean, the Bucs' top-performing cornerback so far in 2021. At 6-1 and 206 pounds, Dean has the size to match up with Pittman and he also displays a very physical style of play. A jump ball between the two of them would be well worth watching. Dean is also one of the Buccaneers' fastest players, so if Carson Wentz tries to go deep to Pittman he will be able to keep up.

INJURY REPORT

DNP: Did not participate in practice

LP: Limited participation in practice

FP: Full participation in practice

NL: Not listed

Buccaneers:

· QB Tom Brady (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· WR Antonio Brown (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Out.

· S Mike Edwards (groin) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· WR Mike Evans (back) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· WR Chris Godwin (foot) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· TE Rob Gronkowski (back) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.

· G Ali Marpet (abdomen) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Doubtful...downgraded to Out on Saturday.

· DL Steve McLendon (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: DNP; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.

· DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches (ankle) – WEDS: FP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· DL Jason Pierre-Paul (shoulder) – WEDS: FP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· DL Ndamukong Suh (not injury related) – WEDS: NL; THURS: NL; FRI: DNP. Game Status: Not listed.

· DL Vita Vea (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.

· ILB Devin White (quad) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.

Colts:

· WR T.J. Carrie (knee) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· WR T.Y. Hilton (toe) – WEDS: LP; THURS: FP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Not listed.

· LB Darius Leonard (ankle) – WEDS: LP; THURS: LP; FRI: LP. Game Status: Questionable.

· G Quenton Nelson (ankle) – WEDS: DNP; THURS: DNP; FRI: FP. Game Status: Questionable.

WEATHER FORECAST

Domed Stadium. Outside: Partly cloudy, high of 41, low of 28, 6% chance of rain, 68% humidity, winds out of the WNW at 13 mph.

GAME REFEREE

Head referee: Shawn Smith (7th season, 4th as referee)

BETTING LINE

  • Favorite: Buccaneers (-3.0)
  • Over/Under: 51.5

INDIVIDUAL STAT LEADERS

Buccaneers-

Points Scored: K Ryan Succop, 75

Touchdowns: WR Mike Evans, 10

Passing Yards: QB Tom Brady, 3,177

Passer Rating: QB Tom Brady, 104.3

Rushing Yards: RB Leonard Fournette, 521

Receptions: WR Chris Godwin, 63

Receiving Yards: WR Chris Godwin, 782

Interceptions: S Mike Edwards, 3

Sacks: OLB Shaquil Barrett, 5.5

Tackles: LB Devin White, 87

Colts-

Points Scored: RB Jonathan Taylor, 90

Touchdowns: RB Jonathan Taylor, 15

Passing Yards: QB Carson Wentz, 2,484

Passer Rating: QB Carson Wentz, 97.2

Rushing Yards: RB Jonathan Taylor, 1,122

Receptions: WR Michael Pittman, 57

Receiving Yards: WR Michael Pittman, 752

Interceptions: CB Kenny Moore, 3

Sacks: DeForest Buckner, 4.5

Tackles: LB Bobby Okereke, 92

TEAM STAT RANKINGS

Buccaneers-

Scoring Offense: 1rd (30.9 ppg)

Total Offense: 2nd (406.0 ypg)

Passing Offense: 1st (314.8 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 26th (91.2 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 3rd (24.0)

Third-Down Pct.: 3rd (48.0%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 1st (3.01%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 9th (64.4%)

Scoring Defense: t-11th (22.2 ppg)

Total Defense: 8th (322.1 ypg)

Passing Defense: 17th (243.7 ypg)

Rushing Defense: 1st (78.4 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 15th (20.5)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 17th (40.5%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 17th (6.11%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 10th (54.3%)

Turnover Margin: 7th (+5)

Colts-

Scoring Offense: 5th (28.1 ppg)

Total Offense: 11th (364.0 ypg)

Passing Offense: 23rd (216.1 ypg)

Rushing Offense: 4th (147.9 ypg)

First Downs Per Game: 9th (21.8)

Third-Down Pct.: 14th (41.3%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt Allowed: 7th (5.01%)

Red Zone TD Pct.: 25th (53.3%)

Scoring Defense: 13th (22.3 ppg)

Total Defense: 19th (358.5 ypg)

Passing Defense: 18th (246.8 ypg)

Rushing Defense: t-15th (111.6 ypg)

First Downs Allowed Per Game: 12th (20.0)

Third-Down Pct. Allowed: 19th (41.4%)

Sacks Per Pass Attempt: 20th (5.99%)

Red Zone TD Pct. Allowed: 29th (69.7%)

Turnover Margin: 1st (+15)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

  • Tight end Rob Gronkowski has returned to the Bucs' lineup, which means he and Tom Brady have another chance to make NFL history. With the next scoring pass that Brady throws to Gronkowski, those two will Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates for the second-most touchdown connections in the regular season, with 89 each.
  • ·    Tight end Cam Brate and wide receiver Chris Godwin are both sitting on exactly 30 touchdowns, tying for the sixth most in team annals. Either or both players could catch Kevin House (31) in second with just one more trip to the end zone. Brate's next touchdown would also tie House for third on the team's touchdown receptions list (one of Godwin's 30 scores was on a rush).
  •  Last Monday night, Godwin used his six catches for 65 yards to move up two spots to fourth on the Bucs' career receptions list and fifth on the receiving yardage list. He now stands at 307 catches for 4,322 yards as a Buccaneer. Godwin still needs 14 more catches to catch Mark Carrier (321) in third on the former list but only needs five yards to pass Vincent Jackson (4,326) on the latter list.
  • Both of Tampa Bay's starting outside linebackers, Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are sitting on 31.0 sacks as a Buccaneer after Barrett got one against the Bears and Pierre-Paul got two. Those two squeezed into the booth next to Brad Culpepper, also 33.0 sacks, at the seventh spot on the franchise's all-time sack list. Either one could pass Chidi Ahanotu (34.5) for the sixth spot with two more against the Colts.
  • Lavonte David's start against the Giants on Monday night was the 145th of his career, putting him a tie with former Pro Bowl center Tony Mayberry for the fourth most in team history. Assuming he starts on Sunday in Indianapolis, David would take over the fourth spot by himself and would then only trail Ronde Barber (232), Derrick Brooks (221) and Paul Gruber (183).

NOTABLY QUOTABLE

  • Head Coach Bruce Arians on the Bucs' scoring 30 points on Monday night but missing on some potential big plays: "Yeah, there were a couple. We had the one called back on the hold that would have probably given us a touchdown before the half, and another one where we aligned improperly and took away a 30-yard gain. Those are easy to correct. It could have been a 40, 45-point night. 30 is good but we're still trying to improve every single week."
  • Wide receiver Chris Godwin on if the Bucs have room for improvement on offense: "Yeah, I would say so. I think when you look at a lot of our games, we've obviously performed a lot better at home. I think we are close to 40 points per game at home compared to 20-something on the road. I think, overall, we have to do a better job of putting together a complete game offensively. Our defense has been playing [well], but we've got to do a better job of marrying up the run and the pass game. There have been games where we've thrown the ball for 400 yards and then other games where we've run for 150-200 yards, but we need to match them up together. Once we do that, I think you'll really start to see the potential of this offense."
  • Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting on the Bucs' defense gradually becoming more of a force last year: "I think throughout the year – not saying that we get reliant on our offense – but there were times where guys were kind of playing trying to make plays instead of playing as a whole unit. I think that, as the time went on, we started to realize that very early and we were able to detect it pretty early so we could fix it throughout the year. I think that after the Bye Week and after guys had the chance to really see it for themselves with losing games that we necessarily shouldn't be losing – it starts to click and guys start to buy in and trust each other and start playing that playoff, championship football again."
  • Outside linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka on the coaches using him to rush from the inside on Monday night with Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaq Barrett also on the field: "It was a cool way to be on the field with me, JPP and Shaq. We practiced it all week – just get after it. It's pass rushing, but inside, so I got in on a passing situation and didn't have to play the run in there. Even though, I feel like I would be capable of doing that, but that's just the little mismatch we have. Guards aren't as fast or as quick so being able to utilize that mismatch was a lot of fun."

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